A link popularity method of indexing web pages is supposed to be about votes for "important" pages on the web. But there's one set of votes that this type of measurement misses, which may be an even greater measure of the importance of sites - bookmarks. Important, at least, to the people visiting those pages.
A new patent application from Googlers Gregory Joseph Badros and Stephen R. Lawrence describes Methods and systems for personalized network searching. The application provides some background on why bookmarks might be helpful to searchers who might want personalized searches.
They begin by telling us that most web page visits are actually revisits, where a user is returning to a previously visited page. When people go to those pages, they often use conventional search engines, instead of typing in URLs in their browser's address bar or using browser bookmarks. They note that these searches are navigational rather than ones using keywords to find information, and searchers are using navigational searches more frequently (See Understanding User Goals in Web Search for more on navigational searches.)
But, bookmarks are still being used by many, especially when a search engines doesn't rank the site highly or it is hard to find with a search query. The inventors tell us that bookmarks that are used frequently can be a valuable resource for the user. In the context of this patent application, they mean more with this statement than just as a convenient way to return to favorite pages.
An Improved Bookmark Manager is Your Friend
There are some problems with the bookmark methods that most browsers use. For instance, people often use more than one computer, at home and work, and it can be difficult to share those bookmarks between those places, even though the bookmarks might be useful at both. It's also not always easy to organize bookmarks, which can make it difficult for the user to find a favorite site.
There are browser-based and commercial bookmark management tools some people use, and some of them can make synchronization between computers easier, but often fail to address the organizational problems of bookmarks. Other tools make it easier to use bookmarks, such as automatically organizing bookmarks on a computer, searching older bookmarks by keyword, and integrating the back, history, and bookmark functions to improve the user's ability to visit previously visited sites (see, e.g., Integrating Back, History and Bookmarks in Web Browsers).
One place where these tools fail users is that they don't have the ability to provide personalized search results based upon bookmarks saved by the user.
That's the need that the technology described in this patent application aims to fill.
Bookmarks as Part of "Personalized Search Objects"
Personalized search may begin with the use of a bookmark manager, which makes it easy to create, modify, delete, and save bookmarks on the network. It would also provide information about those bookmarks to the search engine. The search engine can return searches based upon documents linked to in the bookmark manager alone. Those bookmarks can be shared over different computers. The manager may also include user ratings for different documents bookmarked. Multiple user personalities can be defined in the bookmark manager, with "recommendations" based upon those different personalities.
The bookmarks in the bookmark manager may be part of a "personalized search object" which could also include the history list of the browser. That personalized search could be combined with a general search on the web, or may display both types of searches side-by-side. A number of different ways to sort results are noted in the patent application, including sorting of the bookmarks by user ratings, and possibly even sorting of the general ratings based upon topics defined by the users bookmarks.
Bookmarks Build Communities
It may also be possible to develop a community set of bookmarks, that can be shared, and can help define search results.
The selection of bookmarks may also enable the search engine to define communities on the web who share similar bookmarks.
More than URLs Measured
Repeat visits to a site, amount of time lingering at a bookmarked page, and infrequent use of some bookmarks may also be measured, and inform the results of searches. Other measures, such as whether a page is printed, saved, or scrolled upon could also be noted. A user-defined bookmark title may also influence the search, as may user ratings and annotations of bookmarked sites.
Existing favorites from a browser can be migrated to the bookmark manager program. The hierarchy of those migrated bookmarks (the way they are organized) can be used as annotations for the URLs, as can the full text of an article linked to, when the page was last visited. As browser based bookmarks are edited, the ones in the bookmark manager can be, too.
An html interface might be used to allow a person to change ratings for bookmarked sites, and to add or change annotations. It may also show recently visited, and recently rated sites - enabling a "work-list like review of a surfing session."
The patent application describes the possibility of a standardized format for annotations, as described in Annotea: An Open RDF Infrastructure for Shared Web Annotations
How it Works
A search can combine three processes: searching global indices on the web, searching the bookmarks, and searching annotations of the bookmarks (and possibly also searching the "navigation history" of the browser).
Searching annotations comprises searching the user-entered annotations using the search query 114 submitted by the user 112a. For example, a user 112a may enter the term "boat" as an annotation for a page comprising marine supplies. If the users 112a enters "boat" as part of the search query 114 utilized by the search engine 120, the page with the "boat" annotation will be returned by the search annotations component. Another embodiment of the present invention searches not only the pages that the user has bookmarked or annotated, but also pages similar to the pages that the user has bookmarked or pages with similar annotations.
Annotations that are created by one user may be used by "other users who share similar interests with the user who provided the annotation."
The text of annotations may be used as "user-specific anchor text" referring to the annotated URL.
Annotation may also provide shortcuts to pages in navigational type searches, by allowing a searcher to associate something like the word "home" to the corporate home page. A search for "home" would then bring them to that page.
The application describes a number of different types of interfaces, and their features, that can be used, including a simple one, and intermediate level, and an advanced interface.
Convincing the Unwashed Masses
Liked the honesty of these statements in the patent application, which map out potential marketing methods for the adoption of this type of bookmark manager:
Embodiments of the present invention implement various measures to help encourage user adoption. For example, although not all users may be willing to expend the effort to provide ratings, an embodiment of the present invention provides noticeable benefits for relatively low effort on the part of the user. In addition, by incorporating bookmark synchronization, an embodiment of the present invention helps drive adoption.
Embodiments of the present invention may also implement network and community features to foster adoption of the service. For example, as described above, an embodiment of the present invention may utilize like-user recommendations to locate and rank results. One embodiment of the present invention implements user groups and friend-lists whereby a user can choose to expose a bookmark list to friends or the public at large. In another embodiment, a user has the ability to transparently overlay a weighted set of bookmarks onto their own set of bookmarks.
An organization implementing an embodiment of the present invention may utilize partnerships to encourage adoption of the service. For example, a service provider may encourage partner sites to display a "bookmark this page!" snippet on their homepages and other content pages. For the partner, an embodiment of the present invention provides a means to ask users to opt-in to making it especially easy to get at their site via a search. And for users it's a nice reminder to mark the page or add an annotation. For the provider of the bookmark and search service, such an arrangement helps introduce users to the idea of bookmarks at the moment it matters most: when they are visiting a page they are interested in. It may be advantageous to (e.g., for security reasons) to have partners wishing to display a "bookmark this page!" link to register with the service provider first. Registration with the service provider also helps the service provider to develop relationships with additional content providers.
A provider of a bookmark service may receive various benefits from implementing the service. For example, the provider is able to collect data concerning users' attribution of value on pages.
Antispam methods of the system may include only local implementation (as opposed to global), credit card validation, or CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart).
It may also include "collaborative link recommendations" (Searchers who visited this page, and bookmarked some of the same sites as you, also visited this page...)
Pattern recognition, Better Ads, Rating People's Bookmarks, and Social Networking
By tracking the visits of users of the bookmark manager to different sites, and at different times of the day, the:
service provider has access to the previously unavailable data and may be better equipped to provide user-personalized portals. For example, pattern recognition might let the service provider realize that a user visit various stock quotes every Monday morning, checks CNN.com in the afternoons, etc. In such an embodiment, the search engine 120 may anticipate the pages that users will likely require.
Allowing the search engine to manage your bookmarks may also increase the relevancy of the advertisements presented to you when performing searches. It can tie together your interests as defined by your bookmarks with click-throughs of ads by searchers with similar interests:
This feature provides numerous benefits. Not only are users more likely to be satisfied because the advertising is more targeted, but the click-through rate for the service provider may increase, resulting in increased revenue.
A user may share bookmarks with others, or incorporate bookmarks from others into their own. An example given:
"Add this group's bookmarks to your favorites" when joining a new mailing list.
This was an interesting set of statements regarding ranking pages:
In one such embodiment, the bookmark indicators in results pages distinguish between those pages explicitly bookmarked by the user from those gathered by others. Given a canonical URL through which to reference another individual/organization's bookmarks, the service provider can derive a sense of the popularity of a person's links and weight those bookmarks correspondingly (a la PageRank applied to the subgraph of bookmark interlinks).
The potential applications for this type of bookmark manager seem unlimited, with even a potential social networking feature addressed:
One embodiment of the present invention fosters community and relationship building. In one embodiment, the search engine is able to recognize clusters or pairs of users having similar interests. Such an embodiment is able to suggest other users with which to network.
Adding Bookmarks, and Filtering Sites, without User Intervention
The bookmark manager may also bookmark pages that you don't add to your bookmarks, by looking at such things as "linger time and/or repeat visits." A positive rating for a page may happen if you spend a lot of time at a page (with a potential user override ability for that rating.) A rating score system is described in the patent application (guess that they couldn't write a patent application without throwing some math into it.)
Negative ratings could be used to exclude search results shown to users.
Mitigating Privacy Concerns
Of course, any privacy concerns that we might have are easily addressed (sarcasm intended here on my part):
To mitigate privacy concerns, embodiments of the present invention may require users to opt-in to the tracking. In such an embodiment, the system alerts the user when personalized search is in effect and provides a simple mechanism for reverting to generic search. In such an embodiment, bookmark data may be stored in a secure data center separate from a user's other personal data.
Costs and Benefits
I'd wrap this up with a conclusion, but I don't know if I could match the cold calculus of the patent application in its cost benefit analysis of why people might adopt a bookmark manager issued by the search engine:
Embodiments of the present invention provide numerous advantages to the user and to the provider of the search service. An embodiment of the present invention improves the user experience by providing personalized search results and rankings. An embodiment of the present invention provides advantages to the provider of a search service by (1) increasing the stickiness of the search experience by giving users a compelling reason to identify themselves and share their interest in topics with the provider, and (2) gathering better data regarding the relevancy of pages to different users and different classes of users.
In an embodiment of the present invention, the user providing bookmarks to the service provider enables the search provider to personalize the search for them. The feature can be viewed as a server-side generalization of bookmarks integrated with annotations. Users are able to share that personalization data across different browsers (e.g., work and home) if desired and hence eliminate the drudgery associated with managing bookmarks. An embodiment of the present invention also unifies all navigational queries under a single experience.
Thank God. My drudgery can now come to an end. (Do I need to note my sarcasm again?)